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Kemmerer – Domestic sheep flocks have grazed the Upper Green River region of western Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest for more than 100 years, but when flocks belonging to W&M Thoman Ranches came out of the mountains at the end of September, the book closed for domestic sheep in this northern portion of the Bridger-Teton.

Long pressured by environmental groups and federal officials, the Thomans at last conceded this week, waiving their Elk Ridge Allotment Complex grazing permit back to the Bridger-Teton National Forest without preference to another livestock producer.

Buy-out deal

The deal involved a buyout of an undisclosed sum of the allotments and was orchestrated by the Wyoming Wild Sheep Foundation. The Thoman’s fine-wooled Rambouillets had grazed this range for 40 years.

Citing the potential threat of interactions between domestic sheep and Bighorn sheep, as well as the history of wolf and grizzly bear depredations, the Bridger-Teton National Forest has committed to not allowing the allotments to be restocked with domestic sheep. The agency has indicated it will consider allowing the currently permitted cattle grazing in the Upper Green to spread into a portion of the Thoman allotments “in order to better address ongoing predation issues” but not until further environmental review is conducted some years in the future.

The loss of the Thoman allotments – four allotments that grazed up to a total of 3,900 sheep from July through September – is the latest in a series of domestic sheep allotment closures by federal Forest Service officials throughout the West.

Making the choice

The decision to give up the allotments was a difficult one, and one that members of the Thoman family voiced displeasure. Family matriarch Mickey Thoman and daughter Mary said they believe that the situation had become such that it was best to accept the buyout offer and put their days in the Upper Green behind them.

“I feel in my heart the timing is now or never,” Mary said. “They are running us into the ground.”

The Thomans have spent decades trying to comply with ever-increasing burdensome federal regulations and operating instructions, while adjusting their operations in an attempt to minimize conflicts with recovering grizzly bear and gray wolf populations.

For instance, when grizzly depredations continued to rise despite the presence of herders and guardian dogs, Mary took the initiative to begin the use of portable electric pens for the sheep at night. That voluntary action evolved into a mandatory program in which the pens are required every night, and every detail of their use – from how many panels to voltage, from location restrictions to pen movement every night – is determined by a federal agency.

“We’re going to go bankrupt. How much more trying can we do?” Mary asked, noting that federal officials can say that the Thomans weren’t forced off their allotments, but cooperative efforts from agency officials over the years could be classified as half-hearted at best, and hostile at worst.

“We’ve learned how to deal with bears and wolves, but the bureaucrats I haven’t figured out,” Mary said.

Looking forward

The Thomans aren’t sure where they will be taking their sheep for next year’s summer and fall grazing season.

Federal officials have been unable to identify currently vacant grazing allotments or grass banks where their flocks would be allowed, and the Thomans are hoping that some of their current cattle permits can be converted back to sheep, but federal land managers are again balking, citing concerns for sage grouse and the need to conduct environmental reviews.

Many members of the extended Thoman family, including Laurie Thoman, Kristy Wardell and Dick Thoman were on hand to bring the family’s flocks out of the Upper Green for the last time. Normally this would be a time for celebration as the fat lambs were brought off the mountain, but this year it was a somber affair.

Cat Urbigkit, a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and publisher of The Shepherd Magazine, authored this article. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Medicine Bow – Over 125 people gathered at the 7E Ranch in the Shirley Basin June 24 for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Environmental Stewardship Program and Leopold Conservation Award tour. Ron and Linda Heward and their children and grandchildren welcomed everyone with wildflower centerpieces and stories encompassing the entire 101-year history of the ranch.
“This is the 15th year of the Stewardship Award program and is a big milestone for everyone involved. As we look back, one measure of the program’s success in this state are the three national award winners, which is more than any other state. I would say Wyoming easily matches and exceeds the stewardship found in other states, and we are proud to name the Hewards the 2010 award winners,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
“I couldn’t believe we were chosen for this award. We really appreciate it and find it very overwhelming when we consider the number of great producers found in this state. We are very honored,” said Heward in a video played during the morning presentation that featured a variety of footage filmed on the ranch.
“My grandfather, his two brothers, sister and mother came to this country from England in 1906 and they worked in the coal mines in Hanna until 1909. Then they moved out here and each took out a homestead. I think one reason my family made a go of it in this harsh country was there were enough of them to secure enough land to make a start. They started out running old ewes and gradually expanded from there,” said Heward.
Today the 7E Ranch runs sheep, cattle and puts up hay. Ron explained that hay is the operation’s most limiting factor, saying their carrying capacity is based on the amount of hay they can raise to feed during winter months.
“We put most of it in large loose loafs because we’ve found that to be the most economical. We still put some in small squares because you can always find a way to feed those, even on really cold days,” explained Heward.
The coldest reading recorded on the weather station located in the Hewards’ yard is 38.9 degrees below zero. “Prior to having that I saw it get down to around 50 below zero. When it gets really cold the water will freeze several feet thick and providing water to the livestock can be difficult,” commented Heward.
In addition to dealing with the cold winter weather, the Hewards have implemented a number of improvements over the years. All water on the operation is pumped into storage tanks using solar power, and then gravity fed into rubber tire tanks. Mechanical sagebrush control methods have been tried experimentally on parts of the ranch in an effort to improve rangeland and sage grouse habitat. The ranch also boasts over 250 miles of fence.
“We put in a lot of cross fences in order to implement a rotational grazing system and to better utilize our grass. We use a lot of single-wire electric fence and also build a lot of three-wire suspension fence with the posts 80 feet apart and twisters every 16 feet. We’ve found that kind of fence to be cheaper and easier to build and they’re also more environmentally friendly. The antelope don’t get hung up in them and they don’t tear the fence up,” said Heward. “We still have several more miles we want to put in that will split additional pastures and improve our grass management.”
“For generations, families like the Hewards have studied the land, contended with the seasons and adapted. They have committed themselves to leaving their land better than they found it. When this day of recognition is over and the celebration has ended, the Hewards will keep on going, doing their best to enhance Wyoming’s natural resources, contribute to their neighbors and community and continue seeking harmony with their land,” noted Kevin Cuddy with the Sand County Foundation.
Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Jason Fearneyhough noted that this is a wonderful year to see stewardship practices shine. “But it’s the years when we don’t have this much moisture and things aren’t as green that stewardship becomes really important. I think the Hewards have committed to that and you will see the results today,” he added.
“What they do represents some of the best private landowner land management practices, not only within Wyoming but across the nation,” stated Cuddy.
The afternoon was spent touring the 7E Ranch and attendees were given a firsthand education of the practices in place. Heward and his sons each rode a bus to answer questions and provide information between tour stops. Following the actual tour the celebration continued with a steak dinner.
“We are very thankful to all our partners who helped make this possible and we’re especially grateful to our hosts for opening their ranch to us on such a beautiful day,” noted Cuddy.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Glenrock — Keith and Wendy Lankister and their daughters Clara, Faye and Josey live on and manage the Duncan ranch south of Glenrock. The family recently transitioned to an organic beef operation and also operate “Homegrown & Healthy” and “Maryanns Beans” from their home.
The Lankisters explained their operation during the Wyoming Business Council Diversified Ag Tour in mid-June. About 60 participants traveled to the ranch as part of the four-stop tour.
“We calve in the summer starting June 5 and wean the following March. Then we run those calves through the summer again and harvest them the following summer at 24 to 30 months of age. We may push some a little and harvest them in November if they’re heavy enough this year,” explains Keith of the cattle operation.
He adds the family tries to keep everything in one herd the majority of the year and has placed an emphasis on grass management.
“For us, converting to organic beef was easy, partly because the majority of our management practices already qualified us. We didn’t have to change our mindset a whole bunch, it was mainly a matter of paperwork,” says Wendi.
“We try to run everything on grass 12 months of the year. We supplement during some bad winter storms, but we’re always thinking 14 months ahead into the next growing season.
“Our philosophy, in its simplest form, is to graze every grass plant one time, then leave and let that plant fully recover before we come back to it. We aren’t completely doing that today, but we’re getting closer through a higher intensity, shorter duration grazing plan,” explains Keith
Wendi adds the grazing plan utilizes a lot of temporary electric fence that is moved frequently.
The Duncan Ranch is very conscious of its carbon footprint and doesn’t use a lot of fossil fuels. Feeding hay is done either with a pickup or two-horse team in the winter.
“We contract some hay and that’s probably our biggest use of fossil fuels,” notes Keith.
The biggest challenge the Lankisters face in going organic is weed control. They are fortunate in that there is no cropland adjoining their property. If a lot of spraying was done on neighboring properties the ranch would be required to put a 20-foot buffer around its perimeter. “With this ranch only being around 8,000 acres, that would have been a deal breaker,” says Keith.
“Our neighbors are willing to work with us. If we have a weed problem they will call and tell us and we can address it,” adds Wendi.
The Lankisters are working on some biological control practices, but for now Keith says all weed control has been done manually with a shovel or hoe.
“We actually have two companies. Lankister Livestock is the production end, and Homegrown and Healthy is the marketing end. I’m Lankister Livestock and Wendi is Homegrown and Healthy, but we hire each other,” explains Keith of the couples’ multiple businesses.
Mary Ann’s Beans is another business Wendi took on about two years ago.
“Since purchasing Mary Ann’s Beans we’ve completely changed the labeling to make it more attractive for a retail product store, using different colors and larger stamps,” explains Wendi.
Homegrown and Healthy and Mary Ann’s Beans are marketed through multiple outlets. One is a local farmer’s market the Lankisters attend from July through September every Tuesday evening and Saturday.
Beef is frozen and vacuum packaged. “People like to see what they’re buying, and when they’re paying $15.99 per pound for a ribeye, paper wrapping just doesn’t work,” explains Wendi.
Mary Ann’s Beans are currently sold in states from New York to Nevada and are available across Wyoming and parts of Colorado. Keith and Wendi attribute much of their broadening customer base to attending a wholesale show in Denver, Colo. through the Wyoming Business Council.
One of Keith and Wendi’s biggest priorities is keeping everything as local as possible.
“All the labels for Mary Ann’s Beans were redesigned in Glenrock. The stamps were made in Casper, and the printing is done there as well,” notes Wendi.
“We use Dan’s Processing in Evansville as much as possible for our beef. But to cross state lines beef has to be USDA-inspected, and the closest USDA-inspected plant is in Pierce, Colo. We have stuck with them to increase our flexibility,” explains Keith.
“But it is the closest local USDA-inspected plant to Glenrock. We try to keep in mind what ‘local’ means in different areas, and use it to the greatest extent possible,” adds Wendi. “That’s why our logo says: ‘Buy local, eat better.’”
Homegrown and Healthy recently partnered with Grant Family Farms in Grant County, Colo. and will market its organic beef through the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) group. The group provides a variety of organic meat and vegetable products to communities and delivers weekly to a community drop-off point.
The Lankisters will begin marketing their first crop of organic cattle as early as this November. They currently supply beef to Glenrock schools and are working to get local beef into school systems. Their Homegrown and Healthy business continues to expand with repeat buyers, making Wendi very happy.
Daughters Clara, Faye and Josey also have a business selling eggs. Their primary customer base includes local neighbors and prices are currently at three dollars a dozen.
“They had to write up a business plan and explain what their goals were,” says Keith. “The idea behind that was to keep interest in the project. They have their own checking account, and the lady that opened the account was their first customer.”
“We want to prove you can make it with a herd of 100 cows,” says Keith of the family’s plans for the Duncan Ranch and their own businesses. “We enjoy working together on an operation this size.”
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Medicine Bow – Over 125 people gathered at the 7E Ranch in the Shirley Basin June 24 for the Wyoming Stock Growers Association Environmental Stewardship Program and Leopold Conservation Award tour. Ron and Linda Heward and their children and grandchildren welcomed everyone with wildflower centerpieces and stories encompassing the entire 101-year history of the ranch.
“This is the 15th year of the Stewardship Award program and is a big milestone for everyone involved. As we look back, one measure of the program’s success in this state are the three national award winners, which is more than any other state. I would say Wyoming easily matches and exceeds the stewardship found in other states, and we are proud to name the Hewards the 2010 award winners,” said Wyoming Stock Growers Executive Vice President Jim Magagna.
“I couldn’t believe we were chosen for this award. We really appreciate it and find it very overwhelming when we consider the number of great producers found in this state. We are very honored,” said Heward in a video played during the morning presentation that featured a variety of footage filmed on the ranch.
“My grandfather, his two brothers, sister and mother came to this country from England in 1906 and they worked in the coal mines in Hanna until 1909. Then they moved out here and each took out a homestead. I think one reason my family made a go of it in this harsh country was there were enough of them to secure enough land to make a start. They started out running old ewes and gradually expanded from there,” said Heward.
Today the 7E Ranch runs sheep, cattle and puts up hay. Ron explained that hay is the operation’s most limiting factor, saying their carrying capacity is based on the amount of hay they can raise to feed during winter months.
“We put most of it in large loose loafs because we’ve found that to be the most economical. We still put some in small squares because you can always find a way to feed those, even on really cold days,” explained Heward.
The coldest reading recorded on the weather station located in the Hewards’ yard is 38.9 degrees below zero. “Prior to having that I saw it get down to around 50 below zero. When it gets really cold the water will freeze several feet thick and providing water to the livestock can be difficult,” commented Heward.
In addition to dealing with the cold winter weather, the Hewards have implemented a number of improvements over the years. All water on the operation is pumped into storage tanks using solar power, and then gravity fed into rubber tire tanks. Mechanical sagebrush control methods have been tried experimentally on parts of the ranch in an effort to improve rangeland and sage grouse habitat. The ranch also boasts over 250 miles of fence.
“We put in a lot of cross fences in order to implement a rotational grazing system and to better utilize our grass. We use a lot of single-wire electric fence and also build a lot of three-wire suspension fence with the posts 80 feet apart and twisters every 16 feet. We’ve found that kind of fence to be cheaper and easier to build and they’re also more environmentally friendly. The antelope don’t get hung up in them and they don’t tear the fence up,” said Heward. “We still have several more miles we want to put in that will split additional pastures and improve our grass management.”
“For generations, families like the Hewards have studied the land, contended with the seasons and adapted. They have committed themselves to leaving their land better than they found it. When this day of recognition is over and the celebration has ended, the Hewards will keep on going, doing their best to enhance Wyoming’s natural resources, contribute to their neighbors and community and continue seeking harmony with their land,” noted Kevin Cuddy with the Sand County Foundation.
Director of the Wyoming Department of Agriculture Jason Fearneyhough noted that this is a wonderful year to see stewardship practices shine. “But it’s the years when we don’t have this much moisture and things aren’t as green that stewardship becomes really important. I think the Hewards have committed to that and you will see the results today,” he added.
“What they do represents some of the best private landowner land management practices, not only within Wyoming but across the nation,” stated Cuddy.
The afternoon was spent touring the 7E Ranch and attendees were given a firsthand education of the practices in place. Heward and his sons each rode a bus to answer questions and provide information between tour stops. Following the actual tour the celebration continued with a steak dinner.
“We are very thankful to all our partners who helped make this possible and we’re especially grateful to our hosts for opening their ranch to us on such a beautiful day,” noted Cuddy.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lander – “We run yearlings on leased acreages, have some Red Angus pairs, registered Targhee sheep and raise certified horse hay,” says Scott Fluer of his diverse and multi-faceted operation near Lander. “We have five leases in addition to 500 acres of sagebrush on the mountain. In total, we run on about 700 acres, but most of our leases are about 20 to 30 acres.”    
Fluer’s cows run on the mountain lease, and purchased steer calves are put on irrigated leased acres during the summer months. He purchases between 50 and 70, 500- to 550-weight calves between February and April. Any leftover hay is fed to them prior to turning out on the multiple small, irrigated leases.
“In the spring we will worm, vaccinate, tag and brand the calves. We try to clean up any horns, and I stick with steers so I don’t have to worry about bulls,” notes Fluer. He adds that he also tries to stay mostly black and purchases all of his cattle through Riverton Livestock.
“I try to buy mostly local cattle. I just travel with a trailer and panels and am able to keep production agriculture alive on these small acreages through grazing them. The owners of the deeded land also like it, because of the ag taxes, so there are benefits for them, too,” notes Fluer.
Cattle are sold through Riverton Livestock again in the fall. Fluer says in 20 years the best gains he’s ever had were 2.8 pounds a day, and the average is around 2.3 to 2.5 pounds per day on irrigated grass.
“It’s great to buy good quality cattle and I try to do that whenever possible. But, with irrigated grass I feel I can take lesser quality cattle and make them better sometimes, too.
“Although these leases are small, they’re very productive and have their unique benefits,” says Fluer. “Some I give money for the lease, and others all I have to do is irrigate and take care of the weeds and fences for the owner. It’s a niche that works for us. I focus on rotational grazing using electric fences with solar chargers.”
“With the Targhees I graze the ditches on our deeded land. I use portable woven electric fence from Premier Supplies out of Iowa, and I corridor graze with the sheep to keep the ditches clean and the weeds down. It also makes setting a dam easy. Sheep don’t crumble ditches like horses or cattle will, and the electric fence keeps the coyotes out. Overall it works pretty slick, but it is time consuming,” explains Fluer.
He adds that it would be great to have a large operation all in one piece, but that land prices are so high in the Lander area it’s almost impossible.
“It would be great to have a big operation, but what I’ve found is the option to do it on your own and to make agriculture pay, not only for the cattle, but also for the land, is just not there anymore. You’re looking at $10,000 to $20,000 per acre for irrigated land around here. If you’re not from an old family that’s had the land and been able to pass it down from generation to generation, it’s really tough. Leasing works in our case,” explains Fluer.
The hay side of Fluer’s operation produces between three and 3.25 tons per acre of grass hay in one cutting without fertilizer. “We have been doing the hay thing for over 20 years and it used to be a great market. But today, instead of selling horse hay, we’re putting more of that into our pairs and these yearlings.”
He adds that he is looking to expand his operation in the Riverton area, where winters are milder and land is more affordable.
“Land there costs about 20 percent of what it does here. It would make perfect sense to summer everything here and on the mountain, then haul them down to Riverton for the winter,” comments Fluer.
Fluer worked for the BLM for a number of years as a rangeland management specialist and has been in and out of the Lander area since 1983. He says people came to him asking if he wanted to put up the hay or lease the pasture on their small places, and it’s gone from there. In 2008 the Fluers were rewarded for their efforts when they received the Wyoming Association of Conservation Districts Small Acreage Cooperator of the Year award.
Today Fluer keeps a position as program lead of the BLM Lander Field Office’s wild horse program. “I also auctioneer for the horse program. I’ve been working with the people in Fremont County for over 20 years. Prior to that I was with the Soil Conservation Service in Torrington for about five years. With today’s economy and working in agriculture, you better have someone with a job in town,” he notes.
Scott and his wife Kelly have four kids: Ella, Alec, Craig and Sara. Sara, the oldest, is an animal science major at UW. “We stay pretty busy. By no means are we getting wealthy, but we are able to make a go at this and it does supplement our income. It’s truly a family operation. I think something like this makes for better kids,” Fluer says. “It gives them responsibility and goals, and it helps them learn about nurturing and caring for animals. This also gives our kids more choices in life, and it definitely brings our family together.”
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..